U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Capital Punishment, 2003

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 4:30 P.M. EST Bureau of Justice Statistics
SUNDAY, November 14, 2004 Contact: Stu Smith 202/307-0784
  After hours: 301-983-9354


WASHINGTON - There were 3,374 state and federal death row inmates on December 31, 2003, which was 188 fewer than a year earlier, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The year 2003 was the third straight in which the number of prisoners under death sentences declined - 3,601 were on death row on December 31, 2000; 3,577 at the end of 2001 and 3,562 on the last day of 2002.

During 2003, 267 inmates had their death sentences overturned or removed. This was the largest number since 1976, when the Supreme Court upheld state death penalty statutes. Illinois accounted for 60 percent, where the governor commuted 155 death sentences and granted 4 pardons, thereby removing all the state's inmates from death sentences. During the year 144 inmates entered prison with death sentences, which was the lowest such number since 1973.

Among the 38 states with capital punishment laws as of December 2003, California held the most death row inmates (629), followed by Texas (453), Florida (364) and Pennsylvania (230). The Federal Bureau of Prisons held 23 inmates. Twelve states and the District of Columbia do not authorize capital punishment.

Those awaiting execution on December 31, 2003 were 56 percent white, 42 percent black and 2 percent of other races. The 369 Hispanic inmates under sentence of death were 12 percent of all prisoners for whom the ethnicity was known. Forty-seven women were under a death sentence at the end of 2003, four fewer than the year before.

During 2003, eleven states and the federal government executed 65 prisoners, six fewer than in 2002. They had been on death row an average of 10 years and 11 months, which was four months longer than those executed in 2002.

BJS also reported that:

  • All 65 persons executed during 2003 were men. Forty-one were white, 20 were black, three were Hispanic (all white) and one was an American Indian. Sixty-four were given lethal injection and one was electrocuted.
  • During 2003 Texas executed 24 inmates; Oklahoma 14; North Carolina seven; Ohio, Alabama, Florida and Georgia three each; Indiana, Missouri and Virginia two each; Arkansas and the federal government one each.
  • Preliminary data for 2004 show that 12 states executed 56 prisoners from January 1 through November 9, 2004; 55 were given lethal injections, and one inmate was electrocuted. Texas executed 21, followed by Ohio with seven, Oklahoma with six, Virginia with five, and South Carolina with four.
  • From January 1, 1977, through December 31, 2003, 32 states and the federal government executed 885 prisoners.
  • Of the 7,061 people under a death sentence between 1977 and 2003, 12 percent were executed, 4 percent died by causes other than execution, 36 percent were removed from death row for various reasons and 48 percent were still on death row as of last December 31.

In 2003, 15 states had laws that specified a minimum age of less than 18 for which a death sentence could be imposed. Seven states had no minimum age. Among inmates under death sentences for whom their arrest date was available, 67 were 17 years old or younger when they were arrested for their capital offense.

Eleven states revised statutory provisions relating to the death penalty during 2003. Six states changed their statutes to exclude the mentally retarded from capital sentencing or execution. Three states amended sentencing procedures allowing juries to determine the presence of aggravating factors. Two states expanded the offenses for which death sentences could be given. Portions of one state's death penalty statute were overturned by the state supreme court.

The report, "Capital Punishment, 2003," (NCJ-206627), was written by BJS statisticians Thomas P. Bonczar and Tracy L. Snell. Following publication this document can be accessed at:


OJP provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist crime victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises five component bureaus and two offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education, and the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed program and OJP's American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Desk. More information can be found at www.ojp.usdoj.gov.

Date Published: November 14, 2004